As producers face an historic and ongoing drought today, President Obama and I are doing all we can to help farmers and ranchers mitigate its effects – while helping communities to overcome the economic challenges posed by the drought.
To carry out our work on behalf of communities and producers, USDA has relied on programs authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill. Parts of that law, including authorization of USDA disaster assistance for livestock producers, expired last year. Other aspects of the law expire on October 1st and over the next few months if Congress fails to act.
Unfortunately, the House leadership has left Washington without passing a new comprehensive, multiyear Food, Farm and Jobs Bill. When the current Farm Bill expires, this will leave producers with needless uncertainty as they work hard to get through the current drought – particularly America’s dairy producers, who will lose access to a critical dairy safety net program on September 30.
Inaction by Congress also threatens USDA’s efforts to invest in our small towns, and help grow the rural economy. One good example is our capacity to provide community infrastructure and facilities across the nation.
Since 2009, USDA has made a record level of loans and grants to small towns to help them provide more community services and build more community facilities. In fact, our efforts have made possible more than 7,700 community facilities projects nationwide, impacting nearly 31 million rural Americans.
That includes more than 3,200 projects to improve public safety – putting in a police or fire station, for example, or helping a town replace an aging piece of fire equipment.
It includes more than 1,000 medical clinics and hospitals, reducing the long drives you sometimes face to visit a doctor, and ensuring that care is readily available in case of a medical emergency.
And it includes projects to improve education opportunities for rural Americans. We’ve invested in projects to build or improve more than 900 schools and community colleges, along with 475 libraries, to ensure that rural Americans have the same educational opportunities as city residents.
These community facilities are just one piece in our plan to empower rural America – and they stand as a part of the long list of record achievements USDA has posted in the past three years.
At USDA, we will continue our efforts to help producers and to invest in small towns and rural communities. Meanwhile we need Congress to get their job done to ensure that we can continue these accomplishments in the coming years.
You can find the audio version of the Secretary’s Column here.